#STAYWOLK: The First One
Here's an inside look at things happening in and around Auburn from new AuburnSports.com reporter Benjamin Wolk:
• Cord Sandberg picked Auburn on Monday. Anytime a quarterback is added it’s going to generate interest, but especially when it’s a 23-year-old member of the Philadelphia Phillies organization. To clear up a few of the basic questions I’ve been getting, he has five years to play four just like any other incoming freshman. Many people have asked what this means for Malik Willis and Joey Gatewood. It doesn’t mean anything yet. Willis remains the clear backup to Jarrett Stidham and Gatewood will continue to develop in the offense. Sandberg was the nation’s No. 158 overall prospect in the Class of 2013, but it’s been five years since college coaches have seen him in competitive action. Auburn had a remaining scholarship to give Sandberg — something that helped the Tigers win out over LSU — so it was worth it for Gus Malzahn to make that offer, but there are no guarantees Sandberg will be any more ready than Willis, Gatewood and eventually Bo Nix. With that said, if Stidham goes pro after 2018 as many expect, the 2019 quarterback competition between Willis, Gatewood, Nix and Sandberg could be one for the ages.
• As of now, I’d expect to see three commitments added to Auburn’s 2019 list by Aug. 16. That number could grow to four depending on the decision plans of Gulfport (Miss.) linebacker Derick Hall. The three who are likely to jump on board — athlete Zion Puckett, defensive back Nehemiah Pritchett and defensive lineman Colby Wooden — all told Rivals on Tuesday that they’re likely to make their decision between now and Aug. 16.
• Puckett is down to Auburn, Alabama, Ohio State and Tennessee. He will make his decision “in about two weeks,” though he doesn’t have a finalized day, time or method yet. The Tigers should feel great about their chances.
• Pritchett estimated his choice will come “within a week or two,” and Auburn is the clear frontrunner for the in-state prospect. He’s been a likely land for the Tigers since he camped earlier in the summer. In fact, Auburn’s camp infatuation with him was a key player in Cordale Flott’s ultimate flip to LSU.
• Wooden said he’ll announce his decision on Aug. 16. From talking with sources, Auburn has emerged as the favorite to land him over Clemson despite Archer (Ga.) teammate Andrew Booth’s recent pick of Clemson over Auburn.
• Speaking of Booth, a common question I received Monday was: What’s the plan at cornerback after such a big miss? There’s no denying Booth’s decision stings. He’s one of the best defensive backs in the country, without a doubt. The Puckett and Pritchett notes should help clear up some of that. If Auburn lands those two — which I believe it will — it should be considered a success. As the nation’s No. 32 prospect, Booth ranks higher overall than Puckett at No. 233. Those two were evaluated fairly evenly, however, by the Auburn coaching staff. The Tigers would’ve loved to land both, but just know the staff will be just as ecstatic if they land Puckett as they would’ve been landing Booth.
• While we’re talking about defensive backs, let’s take a look at someone already on the roster, someone who I think deserves more attention for the role he’ll be asked to play this season. Jamien Sherwood didn’t create as much recruiting buzz as fellow 2018 safety signee Smoke Monday, but he’s made just as big of an impression on the staff through the first half of the year. Two separate Auburn sources have made comment about him as a potential future first- or second-rounder. That may seem like too high of praise or unfairly set expectations — and maybe it is too soon for that kind of talk — but it shows the early confidence Auburn has in its young safeties, a potential position of concern given the senior departures. I think everyone knew to expect those kind of comments regarding Monday, but Sherwood deserves plenty of hype in his own right. In fact, the entire incoming defensive back class, including Christian Tutt and Roger McCreary has receive rave reviews early. Toss in the high praise for receiver-turned-cornerback Noah Igbinoghene, and it's easy to see why defensive coordinator Kevin Steele talks about safeties coach Greg Brown as one of the best defensive backs evaluators in the profession.
• Three 2019 linebackers went off the recruiting board in the last week. LaVonta Bentley chose Clemson, Rian Davis picked Georgia and Kalen Deloach committed to Florida State. Auburn will still attempt to haul in one or two more elite linebackers. Travis Williams will get his; it’s just a matter of who. The uncommitted names I’d look at right now: Nakobe Dean, Mohamoud Diabate and Mikel Jones. With that said, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Auburn scour the committed market, as well, as evidenced by a recent visit from Florida commit Tyron Hopper. Hopper's stock is rising fast inside the Auburn program.
• This might slightly step outside of Auburn territory at this point, but it’s worth the update. News broke in July that 2018 signee Kayode Oladele won’t enroll at Auburn. He told Rivals on Tuesday that he has finished up one final outstanding credit and is waiting on NCAA qualifying clearance. Oladele expects to be cleared, but there’s still a waiting process. He said he has been in contact with coaches from Baylor, Ole Miss and Arkansas, but he won’t move forward with anything until NCAA approves him as a qualifier, if that in fact happens.
• Don’t sleep on Auburn in the Noah Cain sweepstakes. Yes, LSU should probably be viewed as the favorite because of the recent John Emery Jr. commitment to Georgia. But there’s a reason Cain plans to wait until December to make a decision. He wants to see how the programs inside his top 6 — Auburn, Oklahoma, LSU, Penn State, Texas and Ohio State — take shape during the 2018 season. If Auburn isn’t successful with Cain, look to south Florida target Mark-Antony Richards and Atlanta-area back Tahj Gary. Both of those guys visited Auburn just prior to the July dead period.
• Continuing with running backs, everyone wants to know who the “starting running back” will be. That’s a tough question to answer because it’s likely not to be as defined as it has been in the past. By-committee approach has been brought up more this offseason by Gus Malzahn and Tim Horton. Whether or not that actually happens will have to be proven to be believed. The same three names keep coming up in conversations with sources, however: Kam Martin, JaTarvious "Boobee" Whitlow and Asa Martin. This is a position battle that will likely take shape as the season progresses even if a depth-chart announcement is made during fall camp.